Search Results: "gus"

12 June 2024

Freexian Collaborators: Monthly report about Debian Long Term Support, May 2024 (by Roberto C. S nchez)

Like each month, have a look at the work funded by Freexian s Debian LTS offering.

Debian LTS contributors In May, 17 contributors have been paid to work on Debian LTS, their reports are available:
  • Adrian Bunk did 34.25h (out of 24.0h assigned and 22.0h from previous period), thus carrying over 11.75h to the next month.
  • Bastien Roucari s did 20.0h (out of 20.0h assigned).
  • Ben Hutchings did 16.0h (out of 24.0h assigned), thus carrying over 8.0h to the next month.
  • Chris Lamb did 18.0h (out of 18.0h assigned).
  • Daniel Leidert did 8.0h (out of 10.0h assigned), thus carrying over 2.0h to the next month.
  • Emilio Pozuelo Monfort did 35.5h (out of 46.0h assigned), thus carrying over 10.5h to the next month.
  • Guilhem Moulin did 13.0h (out of 14.75h assigned and 5.25h from previous period), thus carrying over 7.0h to the next month.
  • Lee Garrett did 11.0h (out of 37.25h assigned and 8.75h from previous period), thus carrying over 35.0h to the next month.
  • Lucas Kanashiro did 10.0h (out of 20.0h assigned), thus carrying over 10.0h to the next month.
  • Markus Koschany did 40.0h (out of 40.0h assigned).
  • Ola Lundqvist did 6.5h (out of 22.5h assigned and 1.5h from previous period), thus carrying over 17.5h to the next month.
  • Roberto C. S nchez did 7.75h (out of 11.0h assigned and 1.0h from previous period), thus carrying over 4.25h to the next month.
  • Santiago Ruano Rinc n did 8.0h (out of 16.0h assigned), thus carrying over 8.0h to the next month.
  • Sean Whitton did 5.5h (out of 5.5h assigned and 0.5h from previous period), thus carrying over 0.5h to the next month.
  • Sylvain Beucler did 10.5h (out of 0.75h assigned and 45.25h from previous period), thus carrying over 35.5h to the next month.
  • Thorsten Alteholz did 14.0h (out of 14.0h assigned).
  • Tobias Frost did 7.75h (out of 10.0h assigned and 2.0h from previous period), thus carrying over 4.25h to the next month.

Evolution of the situation In May, we have released 20 DLAs. Notable security updates in May included:
  • apache2: multiple vulnerabilities which may result in HTTP response splitting, denial of service, or authorization bypass (by Bastien Roucari s, in collaboration with apache2 maintainer Yadd)
  • bind9: two vulnerabilities, called KeyTrap and NSEC3, which may result in denial of service (by Santiago Ruano Rinc n)
  • python-pymysql: potential SQL injection attack (by Chris Lamb)
The aforementioned apache2 was prepared by its Debian maintainer Yadd. This update also involved work on the package test suite in buster, which contributor Bastien Roucari s then forwarded to the apache2 package in unstable. More importantly, a regression in fossil was reported, and Bastien prepared a fix for it. Bastien coordinated the upload of both packages to minimize the introduction of regressions. Contributor Daniel Leidert also prepared an upload of runc to Debian 11 in order fix a number of CVEs still affecting that package. Finally, contributor Thorsten Alteholz prepared uploads for qtbase-opensource-src, libjwt, and libmicrohttpd in Debian 11. Note that Debian 11 will pass into the LTS phase of support in August and these updates will improve the state and long-term supportability of Debian 11. Debian 10 is presently in its final month of LTS support (as announced on the debian-lts-announce mailing list, support will end on June 30th), after which no new security updates will be made available on security.debian.org. However, Freexian and its team of paid Debian contributors will continue to maintain Debian 10 going forward for the customers of the Extended LTS offer. Subscribe right away if you sill have Debian 10 which must be kept secure (and which cannot yet be upgraded).

Thanks to our sponsors Sponsors that joined recently are in bold.

1 May 2024

Bits from Debian: Infomaniak Platinum Sponsor of DebConf24

infomaniaklogo We are pleased to announce that Infomaniak has committed to sponsor DebConf24 as a Platinum Sponsor. Infomaniak is an independent cloud service provider recognised throughout Europe for its commitment to privacy, the local economy and the environment. Recording growth of 18% in 2023, the company is developing a suite of online collaborative tools and cloud hosting, streaming, marketing and events solutions. Infomaniak uses exclusively renewable energy, builds its own data centers and develops its solutions in Switzerland at the heart of Europe, without relocating. The company powers the website of the Belgian radio and TV service (RTBF) and provides streaming for more than 3,000 TV and radio stations in Europe. With this commitment as Platinum Sponsor, Infomaniak is contributing to the Debian annual Developers' conference, directly supporting the progress of Debian and Free Software. Infomaniak contributes to strengthen the community that collaborates on Debian projects from all around the world throughout all of the year. Thank you very much, Infomaniak, for your support of DebConf24! Become a sponsor too! DebConf24 will take place from 28th July to 4th August 2024 in Busan, South Korea, and will be preceded by DebCamp, from 21st to 27th July 2024. DebConf24 is accepting sponsors! Interested companies and organizations should contact the DebConf team through sponsors@debconf.org, or viisit the DebConf24 website at https://debconf24.debconf.org/sponsors/become-a-sponsor/.

15 April 2024

Andreas R nnquist: Status update for Allegro packaging in Debian

I have mailed to a Debian bug on allegro4.4 describing my reasoning regarding the allegro libraries in short, allegro4.4 is pretty much dead upstream, and my interest was basically to keep alex4 (which is cool) in Debian, but since it migrated to non-free, my interest in allegro4.4 has waned. So, if anybody would like to still see allegro4.4 in Debian, please step up now and help out. Since it is dead upstream, my reasoning is that it is better to remove it from Debian if no maintainer who wants to help steps up. Previously Tobias Hansen has helped out, but now it is 8 (!) years since his last upload of either package. (Please don t interpret this as judgement, I am very happy for the help he has provided and all the work he has done on the packages). Allegro5 is another deal still active upstream, and I have kept it up to date in Debian, and while I have held the latest upload a short while because of the time_t transition, it will come sooner or later There I am also waiting on a final decision on this bug from upstream. Other than that allegro 5 is in a very good state, and I will keep maintaining it as long as I can. But help would of course be appreciated on allegro5 too.

6 April 2024

John Goerzen: Facebook is Censoring Stories about Climate Change and Illegal Raid in Marion, Kansas

It is, sadly, not entirely surprising that Facebook is censoring articles critical of Meta. The Kansas Reflector published an artical about Meta censoring environmental articles about climate change deeming them too controversial . Facebook then censored the article about Facebook censorship, and then after an independent site published a copy of the climate change article, Facebook censored it too. The CNN story says Facebook apologized and said it was a mistake and was fixing it. Color me skeptical, because today I saw this: Yes, that s right: today, April 6, I get a notification that they removed a post from August 12. The notification was dated April 4, but only showed up for me today. I wonder why my post from August 12 was fine for nearly 8 months, and then all of a sudden, when the same website runs an article critical of Facebook, my 8-month-old post is a problem. Hmm. Riiiiiight. Cybersecurity. This isn t even the first time they ve done this to me. On September 11, 2021, they removed my post about the social network Mastodon (click that link for screenshot). A post that, incidentally, had been made 10 months prior to being removed. While they ultimately reversed themselves, I subsequently wrote Facebook s Blocking Decisions Are Deliberate Including Their Censorship of Mastodon. That this same pattern has played out a second time again with something that is a very slight challenege to Facebook seems to validate my conclusion. Facebook lets all sort of hateful garbage infest their site, but anything about climate change or their own censorship gets removed, and this pattern persists for years. There s a reason I prefer Mastodon these days. You can find me there as @jgoerzen@floss.social. So. I ve written this blog post. And then I m going to post it to Facebook. Let s see if they try to censor me for a third time. Bring it, Facebook.

3 April 2024

Bits from Debian: Proxmox Platinum Sponsor of DebConf24

proxmoxlogo We are pleased to announce that Proxmox has committed to sponsor DebConf24 as a Platinum Sponsor. Proxmox provides powerful and user-friendly open-source server software. Enterprises of all sizes and industries use Proxmox solutions to deploy efficient and simplified IT infrastructures, minimize total cost of ownership, and avoid vendor lock-in. Proxmox also offers commercial support, training services, and an extensive partner ecosystem to ensure business continuity for its customers. Proxmox Server Solutions GmbH was established in 2005 and is headquartered in Vienna, Austria. Proxmox builds its product offerings on top of the Debian operating system. With this commitment as Platinum Sponsor, Proxmox is contributing to make possible our annual conference, and directly supporting the progress of Debian and Free Software, helping to strengthen the community that continues to collaborate on Debian projects throughout the rest of the year. Thank you very much, Proxmox, for your support of DebConf24! Become a sponsor too! DebConf24 will take place from 28th July to 4th August 2024 in Busan, South Korea, and will be preceded by DebCamp, from 21st to 27th July 2024. DebConf24 is accepting sponsors! Interested companies and organizations may contact the DebConf team through sponsors@debconf.org, or visit the Become a DebConf Sponsor website.

9 March 2024

Valhalla's Things: Elastic Neck Top Two: MOAR Ruffles

Posted on March 9, 2024
Tags: madeof:atoms, craft:sewing, FreeSoftWear
A woman wearing a white top with a wide neck with ruffles and puffy sleeves that are gathered at the cuff. The top is tucked in the trousers to gather the fullness at the waist. After making my Elastic Neck Top I knew I wanted to make another one less constrained by the amount of available fabric. I had a big cut of white cotton voile, I bought some more swimsuit elastic, and I also had a spool of n 100 sewing cotton, but then I postponed the project for a while I was working on other things. Then FOSDEM 2024 arrived, I was going to remote it, and I was working on my Augusta Stays, but I knew that in the middle of FOSDEM I risked getting to the stage where I needed to leave the computer to try the stays on: not something really compatible with the frenetic pace of a FOSDEM weekend, even one spent at home. I needed a backup project1, and this was perfect: I already had everything I needed, the pattern and instructions were already on my site (so I didn t need to take pictures while working), and it was mostly a lot of straight seams, perfect while watching conference videos. So, on the Friday before FOSDEM I cut all of the pieces, then spent three quarters of FOSDEM on the stays, and when I reached the point where I needed to stop for a fit test I started on the top. Like the first one, everything was sewn by hand, and one week after I had started everything was assembled, except for the casings for the elastic at the neck and cuffs, which required about 10 km of sewing, and even if it was just a running stitch it made me want to reconsider my lifestyle choices a few times: there was really no reason for me not to do just those seams by machine in a few minutes. Instead I kept sewing by hand whenever I had time for it, and on the next weekend it was ready. We had a rare day of sun during the weekend, so I wore my thermal underwear, some other layer, a scarf around my neck, and went outside with my SO to have a batch of pictures taken (those in the jeans posts, and others for a post I haven t written yet. Have I mentioned I have a backlog?). And then the top went into the wardrobe, and it will come out again when the weather will be a bit warmer. Or maybe it will be used under the Augusta Stays, since I don t have a 1700 chemise yet, but that requires actually finishing them. The pattern for this project was already online, of course, but I ve added a picture of the casing to the relevant section, and everything is as usual #FreeSoftWear.

  1. yes, I could have worked on some knitting WIP, but lately I m more in a sewing mood.

2 February 2024

Ian Jackson: UPS, the Useless Parcel Service; VAT and fees

I recently had the most astonishingly bad experience with UPS, the courier company. They severely damaged my parcels, and were very bad about UK import VAT, ultimately ending up harassing me on autopilot. The only thing that got their attention was my draft Particulars of Claim for intended legal action. Surprisingly, I got them to admit in writing that the disbursement fee they charge recipients alongside the actual VAT, is just something they made up with no legal basis. What happened Autumn last year I ordered some furniture from a company in Germany. This was to be shipped by them to me by courier. The supplier chose UPS. UPS misrouted one of the three parcels to Denmark. When everything arrived, it had been sat on by elephants. The supplier had to replace most of it, with considerable inconvenience and delay to me, and of course a loss to the supplier. But this post isn t mostly about that. This post is about VAT. You see, import VAT was due, because of fucking Brexit. UPS made a complete hash of collecting that VAT. Their computers can t issue coherent documents, their email helpdesk is completely useless, and their automated debt collection systems run along uninfluenced by any external input. The crazy, including legal threats and escalating late payment fees, continued even after I paid the VAT discrepancy (which I did despite them not yet having provided any coherent calculation for it). This kind of behaviour is a very small and mild version of the kind of things British Gas did to Lisa Ferguson, who eventually won substantial damages for harassment, plus 10K of costs. Having tried asking nicely, and sending stiff letters, I too threatened litigation. I would have actually started a court claim, but it would have included a claim under the Protection from Harassment Act. Those have to be filed under the Part 8 procedure , which involves sending all of the written evidence you re going to use along with the claim form. Collating all that would be a good deal of work, especially since UPS and ControlAccount didn t engage with me at all, so I had no idea which things they might actually dispute. So I decided that before issuing proceedings, I d send them a copy of my draft Particulars of Claim, along with an offer to settle if they would pay me a modest sum and stop being evil robots at me. Rather than me typing the whole tale in again, you can read the full gory details in the PDF of my draft Particulars of Claim. (I ve redacted the reference numbers). Outcome The draft Particulars finally got their attention. UPS sent me an offer: they agreed to pay me 50, in full and final settlement. That was close enough to my offer that I accepted it. I mostly wanted them to stop, and they do seem to have done so. And I ve received the 50. VAT calculation They also finally included an actual explanation of the VAT calculation. It s absurd, but it s not UPS s absurd:
The clearance was entered initially with estimated import charges of 400.03, consisting of 387.83 VAT, and 12.20 disbursement fee. This original entry regrettably did not include the freight cost for calculating the VAT, and as such when submitted for final entry the VAT value was adjusted to include this and an amended invoice was issued for an additional 39.84. HMRC calculate the amount against which VAT is raised using the value of goods, insurance and freight, however they also may apply a VAT adjustment figure. The VAT Adjustment is based on many factors (Incidental costs in regards to a shipment), which includes charge for currency conversion if the invoice does not list values in Sterling, but the main is due to the inland freight from airport of destination to the final delivery point, as this charge varies, for example, from EMA to Edinburgh would be 150, from EMA to Derby would be 1, so each year UPS must supply HMRC with all values incurred for entry build up and they give an average which UPS have to use on the entry build up as the VAT Adjustment. The correct calculation for the import charges is therefore as follows: Goods value divided by exchange rate 2,489.53 EUR / 1.1683 = 2,130.89 GBP Duty: Goods value plus freight (%) 2,130.89 GBP + 5% = 2,237.43 GBP. That total times the duty rate. X 0 % = 0 GBP VAT: Goods value plus freight (100%) 2,130.89 GBP + 0 = 2,130.89 GBP That total plus duty and VAT adjustment 2,130.89 GBP + 0 GBP + 7.49 GBP = 2,348.08 GBP. That total times 20% VAT = 427.67 GBP As detailed above we must confirm that the final VAT charges applied to the shipment were correct, and that no refund of this is therefore due.
This looks very like HMRC-originated nonsense. If only they had put it on the original bills! It s completely ridiculous that it took four months and near-litigation to obtain it. Disbursement fee One more thing. UPS billed me a 12 disbursement fee . When you import something, there s often tax to pay. The courier company pays that to the government, and the consignee pays it to the courier. Usually the courier demands it before final delivery, since otherwise they end up having to chase it as a debt. It is common for parcel companies to add a random fee of their own. As I note in my Particulars, there isn t any legal basis for this. In my own offer of settlement I proposed that UPS should:
State under what principle of English law (such as, what enactment or principle of Common Law), you levy the disbursement fee (or refund it).
To my surprise they actually responded to this in their own settlement letter. (They didn t, for example, mention the harassment at all.) They said (emphasis mine):
A disbursement fee is a fee for amounts paid or processed on behalf of a client. It is an established category of charge used by legal firms, amongst other companies, for billing of various ancillary costs which may be incurred in completion of service. Disbursement fees are not covered by a specific law, nor are they legally prohibited. Regarding UPS disbursement fee this is an administrative charge levied for the use of UPS deferment account to prepay import charges for clearance through CDS. This charge would therefore be billed to the party that is responsible for the import charges, normally the consignee or receiver of the shipment in question. The disbursement fee as applied is legitimate, and as you have stated is a commonly used and recognised charge throughout the courier industry, and I can confirm that this was charged correctly in this instance.
On UPS s analysis, they can just make up whatever fee they like. That is clearly not right (and I don t even need to refer to consumer protection law, which would also make it obviously unlawful). And, that everyone does it doesn t make it lawful. There are so many things that are ubiquitous but unlawful, especially nowadays when much of the legal system - especially consumer protection regulators - has been underfunded to beyond the point of collapse. Next time this comes up I might have a go at getting the fee back. (Obviously I ll have to pay it first, to get my parcel.) ParcelForce and Royal Mail I think this analysis doesn t apply to ParcelForce and (probably) Royal Mail. I looked into this in 2009, and I found that Parcelforce had been given the ability to write their own private laws: Schemes made under section 89 of the Postal Services Act 2000. This is obviously ridiculous but I think it was the law in 2009. I doubt the intervening governments have fixed it. Furniture Oh, yes, the actual furniture. The replacements arrived intact and are great :-).

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10 January 2024

Dirk Eddelbuettel: BH 1.84.0-1 on CRAN: New Upstream

Boost Boost is a very large and comprehensive set of (peer-reviewed) libraries for the C++ programming language, containing well over one hundred individual libraries. The BH package provides a sizeable subset of header-only libraries for (easier, no linking required) use by R. It is fairly widely used: the (partial) CRAN mirror logs (aggregated from the cloud mirrors) show over 35.7 million package downloads. Version 1.84.0 of Boost was released in December following the regular Boost release schedule of April, August and December releases. As the commits and changelog show, we packaged it almost immediately and started testing following our annual update cycle which strives to balance being close enough to upstream and not stressing CRAN and the user base too much. The reverse depends check revealed five packages requiring changes or adjustments which is a pretty good outcome given the over three hundred direct reverse dependencies. So we opened issue #100 to coordinate the issue over the winter break during which CRAN also closes (just as we did in previous years). Our sincere thanks to the two packages that already updated before, and to the one that updated today within hours (!!) of the BH uploaded it needed. There are very few actual changes. We honoured one request (in issue #97) to add Boost QVM bringing quarternion support to R. No other new changes needed to be made. A number of changes I have to make each time in BH, and it is worth mentioning them. Because CRAN cares about backwards compatibility and the ability to be used on minimal or older systems, we still adjust the filenames of a few files to fit a jurassic constraints of just over a 100 characters per filepath present in some long-outdated versions of tar. Not a big deal. We also, and that is more controversial, silence a number of #pragma diagnostic messages for g++ and clang++ because CRAN insists on it. I have no choice in that matter. One warning we suppressed last year, but no longer do, concerns the C++14 standard that some Boost libraries now default to. Packages setting C++11 explicitly will likely get a note from CRAN changing this; in most cases that should be trivial to remove as we only had to opt into (then) newer standards under old compilers. These days newer defaults help; R itself now defaults to C++17.

Changes in version 1.84.0-0 (2024-01-09)

Via my CRANberries, there is a diffstat report relative to the previous release. Comments and suggestions about BH are welcome via the issue tracker at the GitHub repo. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

9 January 2024

Louis-Philippe V ronneau: 2023 A Musical Retrospective

I ended 2022 with a musical retrospective and very much enjoyed writing that blog post. As such, I have decided to do the same for 2023! From now on, this will probably be an annual thing :) Albums In 2023, I added 73 new albums to my collection nearly 2 albums every three weeks! I listed them below in the order in which I acquired them. I purchased most of these albums when I could and borrowed the rest at libraries. If you want to browse though, I added links to the album covers pointing either to websites where you can buy them or to Discogs when digital copies weren't available. Once again this year, it seems that Punk (mostly O !) and Metal dominate my list, mostly fueled by Angry Metal Guy and the amazing Montr al Skinhead/Punk concert scene. Concerts A trend I started in 2022 was to go to as many concerts of artists I like as possible. I'm happy to report I went to around 80% more concerts in 2023 than in 2022! Looking back at my list, April was quite a busy month... Here are the concerts I went to in 2023: Although metalfinder continues to work as intended, I'm very glad to have discovered the Montr al underground scene has departed from Facebook/Instagram and adopted en masse Gancio, a FOSS community agenda that supports ActivityPub. Our local instance, askapunk.net is pretty much all I could ask for :) That's it for 2023!

6 December 2023

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in November 2023

Welcome to the November 2023 report from the Reproducible Builds project! In these reports we outline the most important things that we have been up to over the past month. As a rather rapid recap, whilst anyone may inspect the source code of free software for malicious flaws, almost all software is distributed to end users as pre-compiled binaries (more).

Reproducible Builds Summit 2023 Between October 31st and November 2nd, we held our seventh Reproducible Builds Summit in Hamburg, Germany! Amazingly, the agenda and all notes from all sessions are all online many thanks to everyone who wrote notes from the sessions. As a followup on one idea, started at the summit, Alexander Couzens and Holger Levsen started work on a cache (or tailored front-end) for the snapshot.debian.org service. The general idea is that, when rebuilding Debian, you do not actually need the whole ~140TB of data from snapshot.debian.org; rather, only a very small subset of the packages are ever used for for building. It turns out, for amd64, arm64, armhf, i386, ppc64el, riscv64 and s390 for Debian trixie, unstable and experimental, this is only around 500GB ie. less than 1%. Although the new service not yet ready for usage, it has already provided a promising outlook in this regard. More information is available on https://rebuilder-snapshot.debian.net and we hope that this service becomes usable in the coming weeks. The adjacent picture shows a sticky note authored by Jan-Benedict Glaw at the summit in Hamburg, confirming Holger Levsen s theory that rebuilding all Debian packages needs a very small subset of packages, the text states that 69,200 packages (in Debian sid) list 24,850 packages in their .buildinfo files, in 8,0200 variations. This little piece of paper was the beginning of rebuilder-snapshot and is a direct outcome of the summit! The Reproducible Builds team would like to thank our event sponsors who include Mullvad VPN, openSUSE, Debian, Software Freedom Conservancy, Allotropia and Aspiration Tech.

Beyond Trusting FOSS presentation at SeaGL On November 4th, Vagrant Cascadian presented Beyond Trusting FOSS at SeaGL in Seattle, WA in the United States. Founded in 2013, SeaGL is a free, grassroots technical summit dedicated to spreading awareness and knowledge about free source software, hardware and culture. The summary of Vagrant s talk mentions that it will:
[ ] introduce the concepts of Reproducible Builds, including best practices for developing and releasing software, the tools available to help diagnose issues, and touch on progress towards solving decades-old deeply pervasive fundamental security issues Learn how to verify and demonstrate trust, rather than simply hoping everything is OK!
Germane to the contents of the talk, the slides for Vagrant s talk can be built reproducibly, resulting in a PDF with a SHA1 of cfde2f8a0b7e6ec9b85377eeac0661d728b70f34 when built on Debian bookworm and c21fab273232c550ce822c4b0d9988e6c49aa2c3 on Debian sid at the time of writing.

Human Factors in Software Supply Chain Security Marcel Fourn , Dominik Wermke, Sascha Fahl and Yasemin Acar have published an article in a Special Issue of the IEEE s Security & Privacy magazine. Entitled A Viewpoint on Human Factors in Software Supply Chain Security: A Research Agenda, the paper justifies the need for reproducible builds to reach developers and end-users specifically, and furthermore points out some under-researched topics that we have seen mentioned in interviews. An author pre-print of the article is available in PDF form.

Community updates On our mailing list this month:

openSUSE updates Bernhard M. Wiedemann has created a wiki page outlining an proposal to create a general-purpose Linux distribution which consists of 100% bit-reproducible packages albeit minus the embedded signature within RPM files. It would be based on openSUSE Tumbleweed or, if available, its Slowroll-variant. In addition, Bernhard posted another monthly update for his work elsewhere in openSUSE.

Ubuntu Launchpad now supports .buildinfo files Back in 2017, Steve Langasek filed a bug against Ubuntu s Launchpad code hosting platform to report that .changes files (artifacts of building Ubuntu and Debian packages) reference .buildinfo files that aren t actually exposed by Launchpad itself. This was causing issues when attempting to process .changes files with tools such as Lintian. However, it was noticed last month that, in early August of this year, Simon Quigley had resolved this issue, and .buildinfo files are now available from the Launchpad system.

PHP reproducibility updates There have been two updates from the PHP programming language this month. Firstly, the widely-deployed PHPUnit framework for the PHP programming language have recently released version 10.5.0, which introduces the inclusion of a composer.lock file, ensuring total reproducibility of the shipped binary file. Further details and the discussion that went into their particular implementation can be found on the associated GitHub pull request. In addition, the presentation Leveraging Nix in the PHP ecosystem has been given in late October at the PHP International Conference in Munich by Pol Dellaiera. While the video replay is not yet available, the (reproducible) presentation slides and speaker notes are available.

diffoscope changes diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility that can locate and diagnose reproducibility issues. This month, Chris Lamb made a number of changes, including:
  • Improving DOS/MBR extraction by adding support for 7z. [ ]
  • Adding a missing RequiredToolNotFound import. [ ]
  • As a UI/UX improvement, try and avoid printing an extended traceback if diffoscope runs out of memory. [ ]
  • Mark diffoscope as stable on PyPI.org. [ ]
  • Uploading version 252 to Debian unstable. [ ]

Website updates A huge number of notes were added to our website that were taken at our recent Reproducible Builds Summit held between October 31st and November 2nd in Hamburg, Germany. In particular, a big thanks to Arnout Engelen, Bernhard M. Wiedemann, Daan De Meyer, Evangelos Ribeiro Tzaras, Holger Levsen and Orhun Parmaks z. In addition to this, a number of other changes were made, including:

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project detects, dissects and attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. We endeavour to send all of our patches upstream where appropriate. This month, we wrote a large number of such patches, including:

Reproducibility testing framework The Reproducible Builds project operates a comprehensive testing framework (available at tests.reproducible-builds.org) in order to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. In October, a number of changes were made by Holger Levsen:
  • Debian-related changes:
    • Track packages marked as Priority: important in a new package set. [ ][ ]
    • Stop scheduling packages that fail to build from source in bookworm [ ] and bullseye. [ ].
    • Add old releases dashboard link in web navigation. [ ]
    • Permit re-run of the pool_buildinfos script to be re-run for a specific year. [ ]
    • Grant jbglaw access to the osuosl4 node [ ][ ] along with lynxis [ ].
    • Increase RAM on the amd64 Ionos builders from 48 GiB to 64 GiB; thanks IONOS! [ ]
    • Move buster to archived suites. [ ][ ]
    • Reduce the number of arm64 architecture workers from 24 to 16 in order to improve stability [ ], reduce the workers for amd64 from 32 to 28 and, for i386, reduce from 12 down to 8 [ ].
    • Show the entire build history of each Debian package. [ ]
    • Stop scheduling already tested package/version combinations in Debian bookworm. [ ]
  • Snapshot service for rebuilders
    • Add an HTTP-based API endpoint. [ ][ ]
    • Add a Gunicorn instance to serve the HTTP API. [ ]
    • Add an NGINX config [ ][ ][ ][ ]
  • System-health:
    • Detect failures due to HTTP 503 Service Unavailable errors. [ ]
    • Detect failures to update package sets. [ ]
    • Detect unmet dependencies. (This usually occurs with builds of Debian live-build.) [ ]
  • Misc-related changes:
    • do install systemd-ommd on jenkins. [ ]
    • fix harmless typo in squid.conf for codethink04. [ ]
    • fixup: reproducible Debian: add gunicorn service to serve /api for rebuilder-snapshot.d.o. [ ]
    • Increase codethink04 s Squid cache_dir size setting to 16 GiB. [ ]
    • Don t install systemd-oomd as it unfortunately kills sshd [ ]
    • Use debootstrap from backports when commisioning nodes. [ ]
    • Add the live_build_debian_stretch_gnome, debsums-tests_buster and debsums-tests_buster jobs to the zombie list. [ ][ ]
    • Run jekyll build with the --watch argument when building the Reproducible Builds website. [ ]
    • Misc node maintenance. [ ][ ][ ]
Other changes were made as well, however, including Mattia Rizzolo fixing rc.local s Bash syntax so it can actually run [ ], commenting away some file cleanup code that is (potentially) deleting too much [ ] and fixing the html_brekages page for Debian package builds [ ]. Finally, diagnosed and submitted a patch to add a AddEncoding gzip .gz line to the tests.reproducible-builds.org Apache configuration so that Gzip files aren t re-compressed as Gzip which some clients can t deal with (as well as being a waste of time). [ ]

If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

3 December 2023

Ben Hutchings: FOSS activity in August 2023

1 December 2023

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities November 2023

Focus This month I didn't have any particular focus. I just worked on issues in my info bubble.

Changes

Issues

Review
  • Debian packages: sponsored purple-discord x2
  • Debian wiki: RecentChanges for the month
  • Debian BTS usertags: changes for the month
  • Debian screenshots:
    • approved c-evo-dh-gtk2 fim fish foliate mpc123 nfoview qpwgraph scite viewnior
    • rejected hw-probe (photos), wine64 (desktop logo), phasex (artwork), qpwgraph (about dialog), fim/fish (help output), python-lunch (full desktop), ruby-full (website), ausweisapp2 (PII), pngtools (movie poster), x11vnc (web page,) mount (systemd), blastem (photo), ca-certificates (tiny, Windows)

Administration
  • Debian servers: extract user data from recent wiki backups
  • Debian wiki: fix broken user account, approve accounts

Communication
  • Respond to queries from Debian users and contributors on the mailing lists and IRC.

Sponsors The SWH work was sponsored. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

12 November 2023

Petter Reinholdtsen: New and improved sqlcipher in Debian for accessing Signal database

For a while now I wanted to have direct access to the Signal database of messages and channels of my Desktop edition of Signal. I prefer the enforced end to end encryption of Signal these days for my communication with friends and family, to increase the level of safety and privacy as well as raising the cost of the mass surveillance government and non-government entities practice these days. In August I came across a nice recipe on how to use sqlcipher to extract statistics from the Signal database explaining how to do this. Unfortunately this did not work with the version of sqlcipher in Debian. The sqlcipher package is a "fork" of the sqlite package with added support for encrypted databases. Sadly the current Debian maintainer announced more than three years ago that he did not have time to maintain sqlcipher, so it seemed unlikely to be upgraded by the maintainer. I was reluctant to take on the job myself, as I have very limited experience maintaining shared libraries in Debian. After waiting and hoping for a few months, I gave up the last week, and set out to update the package. In the process I orphaned it to make it more obvious for the next person looking at it that the package need proper maintenance. The version in Debian was around five years old, and quite a lot of changes had taken place upstream into the Debian maintenance git repository. After spending a few days importing the new upstream versions, realising that upstream did not care much for SONAME versioning as I saw library symbols being both added and removed with minor version number changes to the project, I concluded that I had to do a SONAME bump of the library package to avoid surprising the reverse dependencies. I even added a simple autopkgtest script to ensure the package work as intended. Dug deep into the hole of learning shared library maintenance, I set out a few days ago to upload the new version to Debian experimental to see what the quality assurance framework in Debian had to say about the result. The feedback told me the pacakge was not too shabby, and yesterday I uploaded the latest version to Debian unstable. It should enter testing today or tomorrow, perhaps delayed by a small library transition. Armed with a new version of sqlcipher, I can now have a look at the SQL database in ~/.config/Signal/sql/db.sqlite. First, one need to fetch the encryption key from the Signal configuration using this simple JSON extraction command:
/usr/bin/jq -r '."key"' ~/.config/Signal/config.json
Assuming the result from that command is 'secretkey', which is a hexadecimal number representing the key used to encrypt the database. Next, one can now connect to the database and inject the encryption key for access via SQL to fetch information from the database. Here is an example dumping the database structure:
% sqlcipher ~/.config/Signal/sql/db.sqlite
sqlite> PRAGMA key = "x'secretkey'";
sqlite> .schema
CREATE TABLE sqlite_stat1(tbl,idx,stat);
CREATE TABLE conversations(
      id STRING PRIMARY KEY ASC,
      json TEXT,
      active_at INTEGER,
      type STRING,
      members TEXT,
      name TEXT,
      profileName TEXT
    , profileFamilyName TEXT, profileFullName TEXT, e164 TEXT, serviceId TEXT, groupId TEXT, profileLastFetchedAt INTEGER);
CREATE TABLE identityKeys(
      id STRING PRIMARY KEY ASC,
      json TEXT
    );
CREATE TABLE items(
      id STRING PRIMARY KEY ASC,
      json TEXT
    );
CREATE TABLE sessions(
      id TEXT PRIMARY KEY,
      conversationId TEXT,
      json TEXT
    , ourServiceId STRING, serviceId STRING);
CREATE TABLE attachment_downloads(
    id STRING primary key,
    timestamp INTEGER,
    pending INTEGER,
    json TEXT
  );
CREATE TABLE sticker_packs(
    id TEXT PRIMARY KEY,
    key TEXT NOT NULL,
    author STRING,
    coverStickerId INTEGER,
    createdAt INTEGER,
    downloadAttempts INTEGER,
    installedAt INTEGER,
    lastUsed INTEGER,
    status STRING,
    stickerCount INTEGER,
    title STRING
  , attemptedStatus STRING, position INTEGER DEFAULT 0 NOT NULL, storageID STRING, storageVersion INTEGER, storageUnknownFields BLOB, storageNeedsSync
      INTEGER DEFAULT 0 NOT NULL);
CREATE TABLE stickers(
    id INTEGER NOT NULL,
    packId TEXT NOT NULL,
    emoji STRING,
    height INTEGER,
    isCoverOnly INTEGER,
    lastUsed INTEGER,
    path STRING,
    width INTEGER,
    PRIMARY KEY (id, packId),
    CONSTRAINT stickers_fk
      FOREIGN KEY (packId)
      REFERENCES sticker_packs(id)
      ON DELETE CASCADE
  );
CREATE TABLE sticker_references(
    messageId STRING,
    packId TEXT,
    CONSTRAINT sticker_references_fk
      FOREIGN KEY(packId)
      REFERENCES sticker_packs(id)
      ON DELETE CASCADE
  );
CREATE TABLE emojis(
    shortName TEXT PRIMARY KEY,
    lastUsage INTEGER
  );
CREATE TABLE messages(
        rowid INTEGER PRIMARY KEY ASC,
        id STRING UNIQUE,
        json TEXT,
        readStatus INTEGER,
        expires_at INTEGER,
        sent_at INTEGER,
        schemaVersion INTEGER,
        conversationId STRING,
        received_at INTEGER,
        source STRING,
        hasAttachments INTEGER,
        hasFileAttachments INTEGER,
        hasVisualMediaAttachments INTEGER,
        expireTimer INTEGER,
        expirationStartTimestamp INTEGER,
        type STRING,
        body TEXT,
        messageTimer INTEGER,
        messageTimerStart INTEGER,
        messageTimerExpiresAt INTEGER,
        isErased INTEGER,
        isViewOnce INTEGER,
        sourceServiceId TEXT, serverGuid STRING NULL, sourceDevice INTEGER, storyId STRING, isStory INTEGER
        GENERATED ALWAYS AS (type IS 'story'), isChangeCreatedByUs INTEGER NOT NULL DEFAULT 0, isTimerChangeFromSync INTEGER
        GENERATED ALWAYS AS (
          json_extract(json, '$.expirationTimerUpdate.fromSync') IS 1
        ), seenStatus NUMBER default 0, storyDistributionListId STRING, expiresAt INT
        GENERATED ALWAYS
        AS (ifnull(
          expirationStartTimestamp + (expireTimer * 1000),
          9007199254740991
        )), shouldAffectActivity INTEGER
        GENERATED ALWAYS AS (
          type IS NULL
          OR
          type NOT IN (
            'change-number-notification',
            'contact-removed-notification',
            'conversation-merge',
            'group-v1-migration',
            'keychange',
            'message-history-unsynced',
            'profile-change',
            'story',
            'universal-timer-notification',
            'verified-change'
          )
        ), shouldAffectPreview INTEGER
        GENERATED ALWAYS AS (
          type IS NULL
          OR
          type NOT IN (
            'change-number-notification',
            'contact-removed-notification',
            'conversation-merge',
            'group-v1-migration',
            'keychange',
            'message-history-unsynced',
            'profile-change',
            'story',
            'universal-timer-notification',
            'verified-change'
          )
        ), isUserInitiatedMessage INTEGER
        GENERATED ALWAYS AS (
          type IS NULL
          OR
          type NOT IN (
            'change-number-notification',
            'contact-removed-notification',
            'conversation-merge',
            'group-v1-migration',
            'group-v2-change',
            'keychange',
            'message-history-unsynced',
            'profile-change',
            'story',
            'universal-timer-notification',
            'verified-change'
          )
        ), mentionsMe INTEGER NOT NULL DEFAULT 0, isGroupLeaveEvent INTEGER
        GENERATED ALWAYS AS (
          type IS 'group-v2-change' AND
          json_array_length(json_extract(json, '$.groupV2Change.details')) IS 1 AND
          json_extract(json, '$.groupV2Change.details[0].type') IS 'member-remove' AND
          json_extract(json, '$.groupV2Change.from') IS NOT NULL AND
          json_extract(json, '$.groupV2Change.from') IS json_extract(json, '$.groupV2Change.details[0].aci')
        ), isGroupLeaveEventFromOther INTEGER
        GENERATED ALWAYS AS (
          isGroupLeaveEvent IS 1
          AND
          isChangeCreatedByUs IS 0
        ), callId TEXT
        GENERATED ALWAYS AS (
          json_extract(json, '$.callId')
        ));
CREATE TABLE sqlite_stat4(tbl,idx,neq,nlt,ndlt,sample);
CREATE TABLE jobs(
        id TEXT PRIMARY KEY,
        queueType TEXT STRING NOT NULL,
        timestamp INTEGER NOT NULL,
        data STRING TEXT
      );
CREATE TABLE reactions(
        conversationId STRING,
        emoji STRING,
        fromId STRING,
        messageReceivedAt INTEGER,
        targetAuthorAci STRING,
        targetTimestamp INTEGER,
        unread INTEGER
      , messageId STRING);
CREATE TABLE senderKeys(
        id TEXT PRIMARY KEY NOT NULL,
        senderId TEXT NOT NULL,
        distributionId TEXT NOT NULL,
        data BLOB NOT NULL,
        lastUpdatedDate NUMBER NOT NULL
      );
CREATE TABLE unprocessed(
        id STRING PRIMARY KEY ASC,
        timestamp INTEGER,
        version INTEGER,
        attempts INTEGER,
        envelope TEXT,
        decrypted TEXT,
        source TEXT,
        serverTimestamp INTEGER,
        sourceServiceId STRING
      , serverGuid STRING NULL, sourceDevice INTEGER, receivedAtCounter INTEGER, urgent INTEGER, story INTEGER);
CREATE TABLE sendLogPayloads(
        id INTEGER PRIMARY KEY ASC,
        timestamp INTEGER NOT NULL,
        contentHint INTEGER NOT NULL,
        proto BLOB NOT NULL
      , urgent INTEGER, hasPniSignatureMessage INTEGER DEFAULT 0 NOT NULL);
CREATE TABLE sendLogRecipients(
        payloadId INTEGER NOT NULL,
        recipientServiceId STRING NOT NULL,
        deviceId INTEGER NOT NULL,
        PRIMARY KEY (payloadId, recipientServiceId, deviceId),
        CONSTRAINT sendLogRecipientsForeignKey
          FOREIGN KEY (payloadId)
          REFERENCES sendLogPayloads(id)
          ON DELETE CASCADE
      );
CREATE TABLE sendLogMessageIds(
        payloadId INTEGER NOT NULL,
        messageId STRING NOT NULL,
        PRIMARY KEY (payloadId, messageId),
        CONSTRAINT sendLogMessageIdsForeignKey
          FOREIGN KEY (payloadId)
          REFERENCES sendLogPayloads(id)
          ON DELETE CASCADE
      );
CREATE TABLE preKeys(
        id STRING PRIMARY KEY ASC,
        json TEXT
      , ourServiceId NUMBER
        GENERATED ALWAYS AS (json_extract(json, '$.ourServiceId')));
CREATE TABLE signedPreKeys(
        id STRING PRIMARY KEY ASC,
        json TEXT
      , ourServiceId NUMBER
        GENERATED ALWAYS AS (json_extract(json, '$.ourServiceId')));
CREATE TABLE badges(
        id TEXT PRIMARY KEY,
        category TEXT NOT NULL,
        name TEXT NOT NULL,
        descriptionTemplate TEXT NOT NULL
      );
CREATE TABLE badgeImageFiles(
        badgeId TEXT REFERENCES badges(id)
          ON DELETE CASCADE
          ON UPDATE CASCADE,
        'order' INTEGER NOT NULL,
        url TEXT NOT NULL,
        localPath TEXT,
        theme TEXT NOT NULL
      );
CREATE TABLE storyReads (
        authorId STRING NOT NULL,
        conversationId STRING NOT NULL,
        storyId STRING NOT NULL,
        storyReadDate NUMBER NOT NULL,
        PRIMARY KEY (authorId, storyId)
      );
CREATE TABLE storyDistributions(
        id STRING PRIMARY KEY NOT NULL,
        name TEXT,
        senderKeyInfoJson STRING
      , deletedAtTimestamp INTEGER, allowsReplies INTEGER, isBlockList INTEGER, storageID STRING, storageVersion INTEGER, storageUnknownFields BLOB, storageNeedsSync INTEGER);
CREATE TABLE storyDistributionMembers(
        listId STRING NOT NULL REFERENCES storyDistributions(id)
          ON DELETE CASCADE
          ON UPDATE CASCADE,
        serviceId STRING NOT NULL,
        PRIMARY KEY (listId, serviceId)
      );
CREATE TABLE uninstalled_sticker_packs (
        id STRING NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY,
        uninstalledAt NUMBER NOT NULL,
        storageID STRING,
        storageVersion NUMBER,
        storageUnknownFields BLOB,
        storageNeedsSync INTEGER NOT NULL
      );
CREATE TABLE groupCallRingCancellations(
        ringId INTEGER PRIMARY KEY,
        createdAt INTEGER NOT NULL
      );
CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS 'messages_fts_data'(id INTEGER PRIMARY KEY, block BLOB);
CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS 'messages_fts_idx'(segid, term, pgno, PRIMARY KEY(segid, term)) WITHOUT ROWID;
CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS 'messages_fts_content'(id INTEGER PRIMARY KEY, c0);
CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS 'messages_fts_docsize'(id INTEGER PRIMARY KEY, sz BLOB);
CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS 'messages_fts_config'(k PRIMARY KEY, v) WITHOUT ROWID;
CREATE TABLE edited_messages(
        messageId STRING REFERENCES messages(id)
          ON DELETE CASCADE,
        sentAt INTEGER,
        readStatus INTEGER
      , conversationId STRING);
CREATE TABLE mentions (
        messageId REFERENCES messages(id) ON DELETE CASCADE,
        mentionAci STRING,
        start INTEGER,
        length INTEGER
      );
CREATE TABLE kyberPreKeys(
        id STRING PRIMARY KEY NOT NULL,
        json TEXT NOT NULL, ourServiceId NUMBER
        GENERATED ALWAYS AS (json_extract(json, '$.ourServiceId')));
CREATE TABLE callsHistory (
        callId TEXT PRIMARY KEY,
        peerId TEXT NOT NULL, -- conversation id (legacy)   uuid   groupId   roomId
        ringerId TEXT DEFAULT NULL, -- ringer uuid
        mode TEXT NOT NULL, -- enum "Direct"   "Group"
        type TEXT NOT NULL, -- enum "Audio"   "Video"   "Group"
        direction TEXT NOT NULL, -- enum "Incoming"   "Outgoing
        -- Direct: enum "Pending"   "Missed"   "Accepted"   "Deleted"
        -- Group: enum "GenericGroupCall"   "OutgoingRing"   "Ringing"   "Joined"   "Missed"   "Declined"   "Accepted"   "Deleted"
        status TEXT NOT NULL,
        timestamp INTEGER NOT NULL,
        UNIQUE (callId, peerId) ON CONFLICT FAIL
      );
[ dropped all indexes to save space in this blog post ]
CREATE TRIGGER messages_on_view_once_update AFTER UPDATE ON messages
      WHEN
        new.body IS NOT NULL AND new.isViewOnce = 1
      BEGIN
        DELETE FROM messages_fts WHERE rowid = old.rowid;
      END;
CREATE TRIGGER messages_on_insert AFTER INSERT ON messages
      WHEN new.isViewOnce IS NOT 1 AND new.storyId IS NULL
      BEGIN
        INSERT INTO messages_fts
          (rowid, body)
        VALUES
          (new.rowid, new.body);
      END;
CREATE TRIGGER messages_on_delete AFTER DELETE ON messages BEGIN
        DELETE FROM messages_fts WHERE rowid = old.rowid;
        DELETE FROM sendLogPayloads WHERE id IN (
          SELECT payloadId FROM sendLogMessageIds
          WHERE messageId = old.id
        );
        DELETE FROM reactions WHERE rowid IN (
          SELECT rowid FROM reactions
          WHERE messageId = old.id
        );
        DELETE FROM storyReads WHERE storyId = old.storyId;
      END;
CREATE VIRTUAL TABLE messages_fts USING fts5(
        body,
        tokenize = 'signal_tokenizer'
      );
CREATE TRIGGER messages_on_update AFTER UPDATE ON messages
      WHEN
        (new.body IS NULL OR old.body IS NOT new.body) AND
         new.isViewOnce IS NOT 1 AND new.storyId IS NULL
      BEGIN
        DELETE FROM messages_fts WHERE rowid = old.rowid;
        INSERT INTO messages_fts
          (rowid, body)
        VALUES
          (new.rowid, new.body);
      END;
CREATE TRIGGER messages_on_insert_insert_mentions AFTER INSERT ON messages
      BEGIN
        INSERT INTO mentions (messageId, mentionAci, start, length)
        
    SELECT messages.id, bodyRanges.value ->> 'mentionAci' as mentionAci,
      bodyRanges.value ->> 'start' as start,
      bodyRanges.value ->> 'length' as length
    FROM messages, json_each(messages.json ->> 'bodyRanges') as bodyRanges
    WHERE bodyRanges.value ->> 'mentionAci' IS NOT NULL
  
        AND messages.id = new.id;
      END;
CREATE TRIGGER messages_on_update_update_mentions AFTER UPDATE ON messages
      BEGIN
        DELETE FROM mentions WHERE messageId = new.id;
        INSERT INTO mentions (messageId, mentionAci, start, length)
        
    SELECT messages.id, bodyRanges.value ->> 'mentionAci' as mentionAci,
      bodyRanges.value ->> 'start' as start,
      bodyRanges.value ->> 'length' as length
    FROM messages, json_each(messages.json ->> 'bodyRanges') as bodyRanges
    WHERE bodyRanges.value ->> 'mentionAci' IS NOT NULL
  
        AND messages.id = new.id;
      END;
sqlite>
Finally I have the tool needed to inspect and process Signal messages that I need, without using the vendor provided client. Now on to transforming it to a more useful format. As usual, if you use Bitcoin and want to show your support of my activities, please send Bitcoin donations to my address 15oWEoG9dUPovwmUL9KWAnYRtNJEkP1u1b.

31 October 2023

Russell Coker: Links October 2023

The Daily Kos has an interesting article about a new more effective method of desalination [1]. Here is a video of a crazy guy zapping things with 100 car batteries [2]. This is sonmething you should avoid if you want to die of natural causes. Does dying while making a science video count for a Darwin Award? A Hacker News comment has an interesting explanation of Unix signals [3]. Interesting documentary on the rise of mega corporations [4]. We need to split up Google, Facebook, and Amazon ASAP. Also every phone platform should have competing app stores. Dave Taht gave an interesting LCA lecture about Internet congestion control [5]. He also referenced a web site about projects to alleviate the buffer bloat problem [6]. This tiny event based sensor is an interesting product [7]. It could lead to some interesting (but possibly invasive) technological developments in phones. Tara Barnett s Everything Open lecture Swiss Army GLAM had some interesting ideas for community software development [8]. Having lots of small programs communicating with APIs is an interesting way to get people into development. Actually Hardcore Overclocking has an interesting youtube video about the differences between x8 and x14 DDR4 DIMMs [9]. Interesting YouTube video from someone who helped the Kurds defend against Turkey about how war tunnels work [10]. He makes a strong case that the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip won t be easy or pleasant.

19 October 2023

Russ Allbery: Review: The Cassini Division

Review: The Cassini Division, by Ken MacLeod
Series: Fall Revolution #3
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: 1998
Printing: August 2000
ISBN: 0-8125-6858-3
Format: Mass market
Pages: 305
The Cassini Division is the third book in the Fall Revolution series and a fairly direct sequel (albeit with different protagonists) to The Stone Canal. This is not a good place to start the series. It's impossible to talk about the plot of this book without discussing the future history of this series, which arguably includes some spoilers for The Star Fraction and The Stone Canal. I don't think the direction of history matters that much in enjoying the previous books, but read the first two books of the series before this review if you want to avoid all spoilers. When the Outwarders uploaded themselves and went fast, they did a lot of strange things: an interstellar probe contrary to all known laws of physics, the disassembly of Ganymede, and the Malley Mile, which plays a significant role in The Stone Canal. They also crashed the Earth. This was not entirely their fault. There were a lot of politics, religious fundamentalism, and plagues in play as well. But the storm of viruses broadcast from their transformed Jupiter shut down essentially all computing equipment on Earth, which set off much of the chaos. The results were catastrophic, and also politically transformative. Now, the Solar Union is a nearly unified anarchosocialist society, with only scattered enclaves of non-cooperators left outside that structure. Ellen May Ngewthu is a leader of the Cassini Division, the bulwark that stands between humans and the Outwarders. The Division ruthlessly destroys any remnant or probe that dares rise out of Jupiter's atmosphere, ensuring that the Outwarders, whatever they have become after untold generations of fast evolution, stay isolated to the one planet they have absorbed. The Division is very good at what they do. But there is a potential gap in that line of defense: there are fast folk in storage at the other end of the Malley Mile, on New Mars, and who knows what the deranged capitalists there will do or what forces they might unleash. The one person who knows a path through the Malley Mile isn't talking, so Ellen goes in search of the next best thing: the non-cooperator scientist Isambard Kingdom Malley. I am now thoroughly annoyed at how politics are handled in this series, and much less confused by the frequency with which MacLeod won Prometheus Awards from the Libertarian Futurist Society. Some of this is my own fault for having too high of hopes for political SF, but nothing in this series so far has convinced me that MacLeod is seriously engaging with political systems. Instead, the world-building to date makes the classic libertarian mistake of thinking societies will happily abandon stability and predictability in favor of their strange definition of freedom. The Solar Union is based on what Ellen calls the true knowledge, which is worth quoting in full so that you know what kind of politics we're talking about:
Life is a process of breaking down and using other matter, and if need be, other life. Therefore, life is aggression, and successful life is successful aggression. Life is the scum of matter, and people are the scum of life. There is nothing but matter, forces, space and time, which together make power. Nothing matters, except what matters to you. Might makes right, and power makes freedom. You are free to do whatever is in your power, and if you want to survive and thrive you had better do whatever is in your interests. If your interests conflict with those of others, let the others pit their power against yours, everyone for theirselves. If your interests coincide with those of others, let them work together with you, and against the rest. We are what we eat, and we eat everything. All that you really value, and the goodness and truth and beauty of life, have their roots in this apparently barren soil. This is the true knowledge. We had founded our idealism on the most nihilistic implications of science, our socialism on crass self-interest, our peace on our capacity for mutual destruction, and our liberty on determinism. We had replaced morality with convention, bravery with safety, frugality with plenty, philosophy with science, stoicism with anaesthetics and piety with immortality. The universal acid of the true knowledge had burned away a world of words, and exposed a universe of things. Things we could use.
This is certainly something that some people will believe, particularly cynical college students who love political theory, feeling smarter than other people, and calling their pet theories things like "the true knowledge." It is not even remotely believable as the governing philosophy of a solar confederation. The point of government for the average person in human society is to create and enforce predictable mutual rules that one can use as a basis for planning and habits, allowing you to not think about politics all the time. People who adore thinking about politics have great difficulty understanding how important it is to everyone else to have ignorable government. Constantly testing your power against other coalitions is a sport, not a governing philosophy. Given the implication that this testing is through violence or the threat of violence, it beggars belief that any large number of people would tolerate that type of instability for an extended period of time. Ellen is fully committed to the true knowledge. MacLeod likely is not; I don't think this represents the philosophy of the author. But the primary political conflict in this novel famous for being political science fiction is between the above variation of anarchy and an anarchocapitalist society, neither of which are believable as stable political systems for large numbers of people. This is a bit like seeking out a series because you were told it was about a great clash of European monarchies and discovering it was about a fight between Liberland and Sealand. It becomes hard to take the rest of the book seriously. I do realize that one point of political science fiction is to play with strange political ideas, similar to how science fiction plays with often-implausible science ideas. But those ideas need some contact with human nature. If you're going to tell me that the key to clawing society back from a world-wide catastrophic descent into chaos is to discard literally every social system used to create predictability and order, you had better be describing aliens, because that's not how humans work. The rest of the book is better. I am untangling a lot of backstory for the above synopsis, which in the book comes in dribs and drabs, but piecing that together is good fun. The plot is far more straightforward than the previous two books in the series: there is a clear enemy, a clear goal, and Ellen goes from point A to point B in a comprehensible way with enough twists to keep it interesting. The core moral conflict of the book is that Ellen is an anti-AI fanatic to the point that she considers anyone other than non-uploaded humans to be an existential threat. MacLeod gives the reader both reasons to believe Ellen is right and reasons to believe she's wrong, which maintains an interesting moral tension. One thing that MacLeod is very good at is what Bob Shaw called "wee thinky bits." I think my favorite in this book is the computer technology used by the Cassini Division, who have spent a century in close combat with inimical AI capable of infecting any digital computer system with tailored viruses. As a result, their computers are mechanical non-Von-Neumann machines, but mechanical with all the technology of a highly-advanced 24th century civilization with nanometer-scale manufacturing technology. It's a great mental image and a lot of fun to think about. This is the only science fiction novel that I can think of that has a hard-takeoff singularity that nonetheless is successfully resisted and fought to a stand-still by unmodified humanity. Most writers who were interested in the singularity idea treated it as either a near-total transformation leaving only remnants or as something that had to be stopped before it started. MacLeod realizes that there's no reason to believe a post-singularity form of life would be either uniform in intent or free from its own baffling sudden collapses and reversals, which can be exploited by humans. It makes for a much better story. The sociology of this book is difficult to swallow, but the characterization is significantly better than the previous books of the series and the plot is much tighter. I was too annoyed by the political science to fully enjoy it, but that may be partly the fault of my expectations coming in. If you like chewy, idea-filled science fiction with a lot of unexplained world-building that you have to puzzle out as you go, you may enjoy this, although unfortunately I think you need to read at least The Stone Canal first. The ending was a bit unsatisfying, but even that includes some neat science fiction ideas. Followed by The Sky Road, although I understand it is not a straightforward sequel. Rating: 6 out of 10

14 October 2023

Ravi Dwivedi: Kochi - Wayanad Trip in August-September 2023

A trip full of hitchhiking, beautiful places and welcoming locals.

Day 1: Arrival in Kochi Kochi is a city in the state of Kerala, India. This year s DebConf was to be held in Kochi from 3rd September to 17th of September, which I was planning to attend. My friend Suresh, who was planning to join, told me that 29th August 2023 will be Onam, a major festival of the state of Kerala. So, we planned a Kerala trip before the DebConf. We booked early morning flights for Kochi from Delhi and reached Kochi on 28th August. We had booked a hostel named Zostel in Ernakulam. During check-in, they asked me to fill a form which required signing in using a Google account. I told them I don t have a Google account and I don t want to create one either. The people at the front desk seemed receptive, so I went ahead with telling them the problems of such a sign-in being mandatory for check-in. Anyways, they only took a photo of my passport and let me check-in without a Google account. We stayed in a ten room dormitory, which allowed travellers of any gender. The dormitory room was air-conditioned, spacious, clean and beds were also comfortable. There were two bathrooms in the dormitory and they were clean. Plus, there was a separate dormitory room in the hostel exclusive for females. I noticed that that Zostel was not added in the OpenStreetMap and so, I added it :) . The hostel had a small canteen for tea and snacks, a common sitting area outside the dormitories, which had beds too. There was a separate silent room, suitable for people who want to work.
Dormitory room in Zostel Ernakulam, Kochi.
Beds in Zostel Ernakulam, Kochi.
We had lunch at a nearby restaurant and it was hard to find anything vegetarian for me. I bought some freshly made banana chips from the street and they were tasty. As far as I remember, I had a big glass of pineapple juice for lunch. Then I went to the Broadway market and bought some cardamom and cinnamon for home. I also went to a nearby supermarket and bought Matta brown rice for home. Then, I looked for a courier shop to send the things home but all of them were closed due to Onam festival. After returning to the Zostel, I overslept till 9 PM and in the meanwhile, Suresh planned with Saidut and Shwetank (who met us during our stay in Zostel) to go to a place in Fort Kochi for dinner. I suspected I will be disappointed by lack of vegetarian options as they were planning to have fish. I already had a restaurant in mind - Brindhavan restaurant (suggested by Anupa), which was a pure vegetarian restaurant. To reach there, I got off at Palarivattom metro station and started looking for an auto-rickshaw to get to the restaurant. I didn t get any for more than 5 minutes. Since that restaurant was not added to the OpenStreetMap, I didn t even know how far that was and which direction to go to. Then, I saw a Zomato delivery person on a motorcycle and asked him where the restaurant was. It was already 10 PM and the restaurant closes at 10:30. So, I asked him whether he can drop me off. He agreed and dropped me off at that restaurant. It was 4-5 km from that metro station. I tipped him and expressed my gratefulness for the help. He refused to take the tip, but I insisted and he accepted. I entered the restaurant and it was coming to a close, so many items were not available. I ordered some Kadhai Paneer (only item left) with naan. It tasted fine. Since the next day was Thiruvonam, I asked the restaurant about the Sadya thali menu and prices for the next day. I planned to eat Sadya thali at that restaurant, but my plans got changed later.
Onam sadya menu from Brindhavan restaurant.

Day 2: Onam celebrations Next day, on 29th of August 2023, we had plan to leave for Wayanad. Wayanad is a hill station in Kerala and a famous tourist spot. Praveen suggested to visit Munnar as it is far closer to Kochi than Wayanad (80 km vs 250 km). But I had already visited Munnar in my previous trips, so we chose Wayanad. We had a train late night from Ernakulam Junction (at 23:30 hours) to Kozhikode, which is the nearest railway station from Wayanad. So, we checked out in the morning as we had plans to roam around in Kochi before taking the train. Zostel was celebrating Onam on that day. To opt-in, we had to pay 400 rupees, which included a Sadya Thali and a mundu. Me and Suresh paid the amount and opted in for the celebrations. Sadya thali had Rice, Sambhar, Rasam, Avial, Banana Chips, Pineapple Pachadi, Pappadam, many types of pickels and chutneys, Pal Ada Payasam and Coconut jaggery Pasam. And, there was water too :). Those payasams were really great and I had one more round of them. Later, I had a lot of variety of payasams during the DebConf.
Sadya lined up for serving
Sadya thali served on banana leaf.
So, we hung out in the common room and put our luggage there. We played UNO and had conversations with other travellers in the hostel. I had a fun time there and I still think it is one of the best hostel experiences I had. We made good friends with Saiduth (Telangana) and Shwetank (Uttarakhand). They were already aware about the software like debian, and we had some detailed conversations about the Free Software movement. I remember explaining the difference between the terms Open Source and Free Software . I also told them about the Streetcomplete app, a beginner friendly app to edit OpenStreetMap. We had dinner at a place nearby (named Palaraam), but again, the vegetarian options were very limited! After dinner, we came back to the Zostel and me and Suresh left for Ernakulam Junction to catch our train Maveli Express (16604).

Day 3: Going to Wayanad Maveli Express was scheduled to reach Kozhikode at 03:25 (morning). I had set alarms from 03:00 to 03:30, with the gap of 10 minutes. Every time I woke up, I turned off the alarm. Then I woke up and saw train reaching the Kozhikode station and woke up Suresh for deboarding. But then I noticed that the train is actually leaving the station, not arriving! This means we missed our stop. Now we looked at the next stops and whether we can deboard there. I was very sleepy and wanted to take a retiring room at some station before continuing our journey to Wayanad. The next stop was Quilandi and we checked online that it didn t have a retiring room. So, we skipped this stop. We got off at the next stop named Vadakara and found out no retiring room was available. So, we asked about information regarding bus for Wayanad and they said that there is a bus to Wayanad around 07:00 hours from bus station which was a few kilometres from the railway station. We took a bus for Kalpetta (in Wayanad) at around 07:00. The destination of the buses were written in Malayalam, which we could not read. Once again, the locals helped us to get on to the bus to Kalpetta. Vadakara is not a big city and it can be hard to find people who know good Hindi or English, unlike Kochi. Despite language issues, I had no problem there in navigation, thanks to locals. I mostly spent time sleeping during the bus journey. A few hours later, the bus dropped us at Kalpetta. We had a booking at a hostel in Rippon village. It was 16 km from Kalpetta. On the way, we were treated with beautiful views of nature, which was present everywhere in Wayanad. The place was covered with tea gardens and our eyes were treated with beautiful scenery at every corner.
We were treated with such views during the Wayanad trip.
Rippon village was a very quiet place and I liked the calm atmosphere. This place is blessed by nature and has stunning scenery. I found English was more common than Hindi in Wayanad. Locals were very nice and helped me, even if they didn t know my language.
A road in Rippon.
After catching some sleep at the hostel, I went out in the afternoon. I hitchhiked to reach the main road from the hostel. I bought more spices from a nearby shop and realized that I should have waited for my visit to Wayanad to buy cardamom, which I already bought from Kochi. Then, I was looking for post office to send spices home. The people at the spices shop told me that the nearby Rippon post office was closed by that time, but the post office at Meppadi was open, which was 5 km from there. I went to Meppadi and saw the post office closes at 15:00, but I reached five minutes late. My packing was not very good and they asked me to pack it tighter. There was a shop near the post office and the people there gave me a cardboard and tapes, and helped pack my stuff for the post. By the time I went to the post office again, it was 15:30. But they accepted my parcel for post.

Day 4: Kanthanpara Falls, Zostel Wayanad and Karapuzha Dam Kanthanpara waterfalls were 2 km from the hostel. I hitchhiked to the place from the hostel on a scooty. Entry ticket was worth Rs 40. There were good views inside and nothing much to see except the waterfalls.
Entry to Kanthanpara Falls.
Kanthanpara Falls.
We had a booking at Zostel Wayanad for this day and so we shifted there. Again, as with their Ernakulam branch, they asked me to fill a form which required signing in using Google, but when I said I don t have a Google account they checked me in without that. There were tea gardens inside the Zostel boundaries and the property was beautiful.
A view of Zostel Wayanad.
A map of Wayanad showing tourist places.
A view from inside the Zostel Wayanad property.
Later in the evening, I went to Karapuzha Dam. I witnessed a beautiful sunset during the journey. Karapuzha dam had many activites, like ziplining, and was nice to roam around. Chembra Peak is near to the Zostel Wayanad. So, I was planning to trek to the heart shaped lake. It was suggested by Praveen and looking online, this trek seemed worth doing. There was an issue however. The charges for trek were Rs 1770 for upto five people. So, if I go alone I will have to spend Rs 1770 for the trek. If I go with another person, we split Rs 1770 into two, and so on. The optimal way to do it is to go in a group of five (you included :D). I asked front desk at Zostel if they can connect me with people going to Chembra peak the next day, and they told me about a group of four people planning to go to Chembra peak the next day. I got lucky! All four of them were from Kerala and worked in Qatar.

Day 5: Chembra peak trek The date was 1st September 2023. I woke up early (05:30 in the morning) for the Chembra peak trek. I had bought hiking shoes especially for trekking, which turned out to be a very good idea. The ticket counter opens at 07:00. The group of four with which I planned to trek met me around 06:00 in the Zostel. We went to the ticket counter around 06:30. We had breakfast at shops selling Maggi noodles and bread omlette near the ticket counter. It was a hot day and the trek was difficult for an inexperienced person like me. The scenery was green and beautiful throughout.
Terrain during trekking towards the Chembra peak.
Heart-shaped lake at the Chembra peak.
Me at the heart-shaped lake.
Views from the top of the Chembra peak.
View of another peak from the heart-shaped lake.
While returning from the trek, I found out a shop selling bamboo rice, which I bought and will make bamboo rice payasam out of it at home (I have some coconut milk from Kerala too ;)). We returned to Zostel in the afternoon. I had muscle pain after the trek and it has still not completely disappeared. At night, we took a bus from Kalpetta to Kozhikode in order to return to Kochi.

Day 6: Return to Kochi At midnight of 2nd of September, we reached Kozhikode bus stand. Then we roamed around for something to eat. I didn t find anything vegetarian to eat. No surprises there! Then we went to Kozhikode railway station and looked for retiring rooms, but no luck there. We waited at the station and took the next train to Kochi at 03:30 and reached Ernakulam Junction at 07:30 (half hours before train s scheduled time!). From there, we went to Zostel Fort Kochi and stayed one night there and checked out next morning.

Day 7: Roaming around in Fort Kochi On 3rd of September, we roamed around in Fort Kochi. We visited the usual places - St Francis Church, Dutch Palace, Jew Town, Pardesi Synagogue. I also visited some homestays and the owners were very happy to show their place even when I made it clear that I was not looking for a stay. In the evening, we went to Kakkanad to attend DebConf. The story continues in my DebConf23 blog post.

12 October 2023

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in September 2023

Welcome to the September 2023 report from the Reproducible Builds project In these reports, we outline the most important things that we have been up to over the past month. As a quick recap, whilst anyone may inspect the source code of free software for malicious flaws, almost all software is distributed to end users as pre-compiled binaries.
Andreas Herrmann gave a talk at All Systems Go 2023 titled Fast, correct, reproducible builds with Nix and Bazel . Quoting from the talk description:

You will be introduced to Google s open source build system Bazel, and will learn how it provides fast builds, how correctness and reproducibility is relevant, and how Bazel tries to ensure correctness. But, we will also see where Bazel falls short in ensuring correctness and reproducibility. You will [also] learn about the purely functional package manager Nix and how it approaches correctness and build isolation. And we will see where Bazel has an advantage over Nix when it comes to providing fast feedback during development.
Andreas also shows how you can get the best of both worlds and combine Nix and Bazel, too. A video of the talk is available.
diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility that can locate and diagnose reproducibility issues. This month, Chris Lamb fixed compatibility with file(1) version 5.45 [ ] and updated some documentation [ ]. In addition, Vagrant Cascadian extended support for GNU Guix [ ][ ] and updated the version in that distribution as well. [ ].
Yet another reminder that our upcoming Reproducible Builds Summit is set to take place from October 31st November 2nd 2023 in Hamburg, Germany. If you haven t been before, our summits are a unique gathering that brings together attendees from diverse projects, united by a shared vision of advancing the Reproducible Builds effort. During this enriching event, participants will have the opportunity to engage in discussions, establish connections and exchange ideas to drive progress in this vital field. If you re interested in joining us this year, please make sure to read the event page, the news item, or the invitation email that Mattia Rizzolo sent out recently, all of which have more details about the event and location. We are also still looking for sponsors to support the event, so please reach out to the organising team if you are able to help. Also note that PackagingCon 2023 is taking place in Berlin just before our summit.
On the Reproducible Builds website, Greg Chabala updated the JVM-related documentation to update a link to the BUILDSPEC.md file. [ ] And Fay Stegerman fixed the builds failing because of a YAML syntax error.

Distribution work In Debian, this month: September saw F-Droid add ten new reproducible apps, and one existing app switched to reproducible builds. In addition, two reproducible apps were archived and one was disabled for a current total of 199 apps published with Reproducible Builds and using the upstream developer s signature. [ ] In addition, an extensive blog post was posted on f-droid.org titled Reproducible builds, signing keys, and binary repos .

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project detects, dissects and attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. We endeavour to send all of our patches upstream where appropriate. This month, we wrote a large number of such patches, including:

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project operates a comprehensive testing framework (available at tests.reproducible-builds.org) in order to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. In August, a number of changes were made by Holger Levsen:
  • Disable armhf and i386 builds due to Debian bug #1052257. [ ][ ][ ][ ]
  • Run diffoscope with a lower ionice priority. [ ]
  • Log every build in a simple text file [ ] and create persistent stamp files when running diffoscope to ease debugging [ ].
  • Run schedulers one hour after dinstall again. [ ]
  • Temporarily use diffoscope from the host, and not from a schroot running the tested suite. [ ][ ]
  • Fail the diffoscope distribution test if the diffoscope version cannot be determined. [ ]
  • Fix a spelling error in the email to IRC gateway. [ ]
  • Force (and document) the reconfiguration of all jobs, due to the recent rise of zombies. [ ][ ][ ][ ]
  • Deal with a rare condition when killing processes which should not be there. [ ]
  • Install the Debian backports kernel in an attempt to address Debian bug #1052257. [ ][ ]
In addition, Mattia Rizzolo fixed a call to diffoscope --version (as suggested by Fay Stegerman on our mailing list) [ ], worked on an openQA credential issue [ ] and also made some changes to the machine-readable reproducible metadata, reproducible-tracker.json [ ]. Lastly, Roland Clobus added instructions for manual configuration of the openQA secrets [ ].

If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

8 October 2023

Sahil Dhiman: Lap 24

Twenty-four is a big number. More than one/fourth (or more) of my life is behind me now. At this point, I truly feel like I have become an adult; mentally and physically. Another year seem to have gone by quickly. I still vividly remember writing 23 and Counting and here I m writing the next one so soon. Probably the lowest I felt ever on my birthday; with loss of Abraham and on the other hand, medical issues with a dear one. Didn t even felt like birthday was almost here. The loss of Abraham, taught me to care for people more and meet cherish everyone. I m grateful for all the people who supported and cared for me and others during times of grief when things went numb. Thank you! Also, for the first time ever, I went to office on my birthday. This probably would become a norm in coming years. Didn t felt like doing anything, so just went to office. The cake, wishes and calls kept coming in throughout the day. I m grateful for the all people around for remembering :) This year marked my first official job switch where I moved from MakeMyTrip to Unmukti as a GNU/Linux Network Systems engineer (that s a mouthful of a job role, I know) where I do anything and everything ranging from system admin, network engineering, a bit of social media, chronicling stuff on company blog and bringing up new applications as per requirement. Moving from MMT to Unmukti was a big cultural shift. From a full-blown corporate with more than 3 thousand employees to a small 5-person team. People still think I work for a startup on hearing the low head count, though Unmukti is a 13 year old organization. I get the freedom to work at my own pace and put my ideas in larger technical discussions, while also actively participating in the community, which I m truly grateful of. I go full geek here and almost everyone here is on the same spectrum, so things technical or societal discussions just naturally flow. The months of August-September again marked the Great Refresh. For reasons unforeseen, I have had to pack my stuff again and move, albeit to just next door for now, but that gave me the much need opportunity to sift through my belongings here. As usual, I threw a boatload of stuff which was of no use and/or just hogging space. My wardrobe cupboard finally got cleaned and sorted, with old and new clothes getting (re)discovered. The Refresh is always a pain with loads of collating stuff in carry worthy bags and hauling stuff but as usual, there s nothing else I can do other than just pack and move. This year also culminated our four plus years of work for organizing annual Debian conference, DebConf to India. DebConf23 happened in Kochi, Kerala from 3rd September to 17th September (including DebCamp). First concrete work to bring conference to India was done Raju Dev who made the first bid during DebConf18 in Hsinchu, Taiwan. We lost but won during the next year bid at DebConf19 Curitiba, Brazil in 2019. I joined the efforts after meeting the team online after DebConf20. Initially started with the publicity team, but we didn t need much publicity for event, I was later asked to join sponsors/fundraising team. That turned out to be quite an experience. Then the conference itself turned to be a good experience. More on that in an upcoming DebConf23 blog post, which will come eventually. After seeing how things work out in Debian in 2020, I had the goal to become a Debian Developer (DD) before DebConf23, which gave me almost three years to get involved and get recognized to become a DD. I was more excited to grab sahil AT debian.org, a short email with only my name and no number of characters after it. After, quite a while, I dropped the hope of become a DD because I wasn t successful in my attempts to meaningfully package and technically contribute to the project. But people in Debian India later convinced me that I have done enough to become a Debian Developer, non uploading, purely by showing up and helping around all for the Debian conferences. I applied and got sponsored (i.e. supported) for my request by srud and Praveen. Finally, on 23rd Feb, I officially became part of Debian project as 14th (at the moment) Debian Developer from India. Got sahil AT debian.org too :) For some grace, I also became a DD before DebConf23. Becoming a DD didn t change anything much though, I still believe, it might have helped secure me a job though. Also, worth mentioning is my increased interest in OpenStreetMap (OSM) mapping. I heavily mapped this year and went around for mapathon-meetups too. One step towards a better OSM and more community engagement around it. Looking back at my blog, this year around, it seems mostly dotted with Debian and one OSM post. Significant shift from the range of topics I use to write about in the past year but blogging this year wasn t a go-to activity. Other stuff kept me busy. Living in Gurugram has shown me many facades of life from which I was shielded or didn t come across earlier. It made me realize all the privileges which has helped me along the way, which became apparent while living almost alone here and managing thing by oneself.

4 October 2023

Russ Allbery: Review: The Last Watch

Review: The Last Watch, by J.S. Dewes
Series: Divide #1
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: 2021
ISBN: 1-250-23634-7
Format: Kindle
Pages: 476
The Last Watch is the first book of a far-future science fiction duology. It was J.S. Dewes's first novel. The station of the SCS Argus is the literal edge of the universe: the Divide, beyond which there is nothing. Not simply an absence of stars, but a nothing from a deeper level of physics. The Argus is there to guard against a return of the Viators, the technologically superior alien race that nearly conquered humanity hundreds of years prior and has already returned once, apparently traveling along the Divide. Humanity believes the Viators have been wiped out, but they're not taking chances. It is not a sought-after assignment. The Sentinels are the dregs of the military: convicts, troublemakers, and misfits, banished to the literal edge of nowhere. Joining them at the start of this book is the merchant prince, cocky asshole, and exiled sabateur Cavalon Mercer. He doesn't know what to expect from either military service or service on the edge of the universe. He certainly did not expect the Argus to be commanded by Adequin Rake, a literal war hero and a far more effective leader than this post would seem to warrant. There are reasons why Rake is out on the edge of the universe, ones that she's not eager to talk about. They quickly become an afterthought when the Argus discovers that the Divide is approaching their position. The universe is collapsing, and the only people who know about it are people the System Collective would prefer to forget exist. Yes, the edge of the universe, not the edge of the galaxy. Yes, despite having two FTL mechanisms, this book has a scale problem that it never reconciles. And yes, the physics do not really make sense, although this is not the sort of book that tries to explain the science. The characters are too busy trying to survive to develop new foundational theories of physics. I was looking for more good military SF after enjoying Artifact Space so much (and still eagerly awaiting the sequel), so I picked this up. It has some of the same elements: the military as a place where you can make a fresh start with found family elements, the equalizing effects of military assignments, and the merits of good leadership. They're a bit disguised here, since this is a crew of often-hostile misfits under a lot of stress with a partly checked-out captain, but they do surface towards the end of the book. The strength of this book is the mystery of the contracting universe, which poses both an immediate threat to the ship and a longer-term potential threat to, well, everything. The first part of the book builds tension with the immediate threat, but the story comes into its own when the crew starts piecing together the connections between the Viators and the Divide while jury-rigging technology and making risky choices between a lot of bad options. This is the first half of a duology, so the mysteries are not resolved here, but they do reach a satisfying and tantalizing intermediate conclusion. The writing is servicable and adequate, but it's a bit clunky in places. Dewes doesn't quite have the balance right between setting the emotional stakes and not letting the characters indulge in rumination. Rake is a good captain who is worn down and partly checked out, Mercer is scared and hiding it with arrogance and will do well when given the right sort of attention, and all of this is reasonably obvious early on and didn't need as many of the book's pages as it gets. I could have done without the romantic subplot, which I thought was an unnecessary distraction from the plot and turned into a lot of tedious angst, but I suspect I was not the target audience. (Writers, please remember that people can still care about each other and be highly motivated by fear for each other without being romantic partners.) I would not call this a great book. The characters are not going to surprise you that much, and it's a bit long for the amount of plot that it delivers. If you are the sort of person who nit-picks the physics of SF novels and gets annoyed at writers who don't understand how big the universe is, you will have to take a deep breath and hold on to your suspension of disbelief. But Dewes does a good job with ratcheting up the tension and conveying an atmosphere of mysterious things happening at the edge of nowhere, while still keeping it in the genre of mysterious technology and mind-boggingly huge physical phenomena rather than space horror. If you've been looking for that sort of book, this will do. I was hooked and will definitely read the sequel. Followed by The Exiled Fleet. Rating: 7 out of 10

3 October 2023

Russ Allbery: Review: Monstrous Regiment

Review: Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett
Series: Discworld #31
Publisher: Harper
Copyright: October 2003
Printing: August 2014
ISBN: 0-06-230741-X
Format: Mass market
Pages: 457
Monstrous Regiment is the 31st Discworld novel, but it mostly stands by itself. You arguably could start here, although you would miss the significance of Vimes's presence and the references to The Truth. The graphical reading order guide puts it loosely after The Truth and roughly in the Industrial Revolution sequence, but the connections are rather faint.
There was always a war. Usually they were border disputes, the national equivalent of complaining that the neighbor was letting their hedge row grow too long. Sometimes they were bigger. Borogravia was a peace-loving country in the middle of treacherous, devious, warlike enemies. They had to be treacherous, devious, and warlike; otherwise, we wouldn't be fighting them, eh? There was always a war.
Polly's brother, who wanted nothing more than to paint (something that the god Nuggan and the ever-present Duchess certainly did not consider appropriate for a strapping young man), was recruited to fight in the war and never came back. Polly is worried about him and tired of waiting for news. Exit Polly, innkeeper's daughter, and enter the young lad Oliver Perks, who finds the army recruiters in a tavern the next town over. One kiss of the Duchess's portrait later, and Polly is a private in the Borogravian army. I suspect this is some people's favorite Discworld novel. If so, I understand why. It was not mine, for reasons that I'll get into, but which are largely not Pratchett's fault and fall more into the category of pet peeves. Pratchett has dealt with both war and gender in the same book before. Jingo is also about a war pushed by a ruling class for stupid reasons, and featured a substantial subplot about Nobby cross-dressing that turns into a deeper character re-evaluation. I thought the war part of Monstrous Regiment was weaker (this is part of my complaint below), but gender gets a considerably deeper treatment. Monstrous Regiment is partly about how arbitrary and nonsensical gender roles are, and largely about how arbitrary and abusive social structures can become weirdly enduring because they build up their own internally reinforcing momentum. No one knows how to stop them, and a lot of people find familiar misery less frightening than unknown change, so the structure continues despite serving no defensible purpose. Recently, there was a brief attempt in some circles to claim Pratchett posthumously for the anti-transgender cause in the UK. Pratchett's daughter was having none of it, and any Pratchett reader should have been able to reject that out of hand, but Monstrous Regiment is a comprehensive refutation written by Pratchett himself some twenty years earlier. Polly is herself is not transgender. She thinks of herself as a woman throughout the book; she's just pretending to be a boy. But she also rejects binary gender roles with the scathing dismissal of someone who knows first-hand how superficial they are, and there is at least one transgender character in this novel (although to say who would be a spoiler). By the end of the book, you will have no doubt that Pratchett's opinion about people imposing gender roles on others is the same as his opinion about every other attempt to treat people as things. That said, by 2023 standards the treatment of gender here seems... naive? I think 2003 may sadly have been a more innocent time. We're now deep into a vicious backlash against any attempt to question binary gender assignment, but very little of that nastiness and malice is present here. In one way, this is a feature; there's more than enough of that in real life. However, it also makes the undermining of gender roles feel a bit too easy. There are good in-story reasons for why it's relatively simple for Polly to pass as a boy, but I still spent a lot of the book thinking that passing as a private in the army would be a lot harder and riskier than this. Pratchett can't resist a lot of cross-dressing and gender befuddlement jokes, all of which are kindly and wry but (at least for me) hit a bit differently in 2023 than they would have in 2003. The climax of the story is also a reference to a classic UK novel that to even name would be to spoil one or both of the books, but which I thought pulled the punch of the story and dissipated a lot of the built-up emotional energy. My larger complaints, though, are more idiosyncratic. This is a war novel about the enlisted ranks, including the hazing rituals involved in joining the military. There are things I love about military fiction, but apparently that reaction requires I have some sympathy for the fight or the goals of the institution. Monstrous Regiment falls into the class of war stories where the war is pointless and the system is abusive but the camaraderie in the ranks makes service oddly worthwhile, if not entirely justifiable. This is a real feeling that many veterans do have about military service, and I don't mean to question it, but apparently reading about it makes me grumbly. There's only so much of the apparently gruff sergeant with a heart of gold that I can take before I start wondering why we glorify hazing rituals as a type of tough love, or why the person with some authority doesn't put a direct stop to nastiness instead of providing moral support so subtle you could easily blink and miss it. Let alone the more basic problems like none of these people should have to be here doing this, or lots of people are being mangled and killed to make possible this heart-warming friendship. Like I said earlier, this is a me problem, not a Pratchett problem. He's writing a perfectly reasonable story in a genre I just happen to dislike. He's even undermining the genre in the process, just not quite fast enough or thoroughly enough for my taste. A related grumble is that Monstrous Regiment is very invested in the military trope of naive and somewhat incompetent officers who have to be led by the nose by experienced sergeants into making the right decision. I have never been in the military, but I work in an industry in which it is common to treat management as useless incompetents at best and actively malicious forces at worst. This is, to me, one of the most persistently obnoxious attitudes in my profession, and apparently my dislike of it carries over as a low tolerance for this very common attitude towards military hierarchy. A full expansion of this point would mostly be about the purpose of management, division of labor, and people's persistent dismissal of skills they don't personally have and may perceive as gendered, and while some of that is tangentially related to this book, it's not closely-related enough for me to bore you with it in a review. Maybe I'll write a stand-alone blog post someday. Suffice it to say that Pratchett deployed a common trope that most people would laugh at and read past without a second thought, but that for my own reasons started getting under my skin by the end of the novel. All of that grumbling aside, I did like this book. It is a very solid Discworld novel that does all the typical things a Discworld novel does: likable protagonists you can root for, odd and fascinating side characters, sharp and witty observations of human nature, and a mostly enjoyable ending where most of the right things happen. Polly is great; I was very happy to read a book from her perspective and would happily read more. Vimes makes a few appearances being Vimes, and while I found his approach in this book less satisfying than in Jingo, I'll still take it. And the examination of gender roles, even if a bit less fraught than current politics, is solid Pratchett morality. The best part of this book for me, by far, is Wazzer. I think that subplot was the most Discworld part of this book: a deeply devout belief in a pseudo-godlike figure that is part of the abusive social structure that creates many of the problems of the book becomes something considerably stranger and more wonderful. There is a type of belief that is so powerful that it transforms the target of that belief, at least in worlds like Discworld that have a lot of ambient magic. Not many people have that type of belief, and having it is not a comfortable experience, but it makes for a truly excellent story. Monstrous Regiment is a solid Discworld novel. It was not one of my favorites, but it probably will be someone else's favorite for a host of good reasons. Good stuff; if you've read this far, you will enjoy it. Followed by A Hat Full of Sky in publication order, and thematically (but very loosely) by Going Postal. Rating: 8 out of 10

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